William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


Drawing from George Lipsitz’s notion that whiteness is “not so much a color as a condition,” this Article embarks on the project of framing the manner and methods through which whiteness continues to dominate space and place. Wherever whiteness dominates space, space carries rules and expectations about the identity and characteristics of people who are present—visitors and jaunters, owners and occupiers—and the types of activities and cultural practices that might occur there. Occasionally, spaces are racialized because of intentional practices of discrimination and segregation. In others, less intentional methods produce racialized space. In both, American spaces tell their own histories of exclusion and violence and hate.

This Article proposes understanding how the white space is maintained by looking to the intersection of race, space, and place. Race, a social construct often designed to create and maintain subordination, is an essential lens for understanding the ways that history and power disparities shape the values we attach to land and that come to define our communities. Space in this Article refers to geographical and temporal location, where racially defining moments may occur. Place, often appearing as a community’s sense of place, illustrates the ways that individuals attach to spaces and communities, as well as how spaces and community attach to individuals. This examination reveals that racism produces, and is produced by, the spaces that we inhabit, visit, or even hear about. This examination also reveals that such racialized spaces can become racialized places. Yet, just as place can serve as the consecration of bias, it can also assist in identifying and naming racial subordination.

To understand how the framework of race, space, and place operates, this Article examines the idea of the community’s comprehensive land use plan, the publication of which signifies the moment when a grounded group of people raise their flags and announce to the world, “this is who we are.” The comprehensive plan is the grasp of the past, the path to the future, and the self-assessment of the character of a particular community. It is the statement that sets a community apart from others, and it entails the reasons that residents adore (or suffer) their communities. Although there is a lot of anti-racist work to do in the land use context, the comprehensive plan serves as a good launching point because it is intended as a tool of local strength and cohesion. The comprehensive plan is, in the land use context, the essential community-building moment of local governance.

Part I of this Article introduces the purposes and challenges of the comprehensive plan, followed by an analysis of the racial biases evident in the planning undertaken in the seemingly picturesque Amherst, Massachusetts. Part II examines the framework of race, space, and place, identifying and illustrating the types of coded language and systemic practices that surface in a racial justice audit of local planning documents. Part III then introduces a variety of devices that will make racialized histories more visible and transform the white domination of space into something more just and inclusive.

This abstract has been adapted from the author's introduction.